Many avid climbers tend to fall into friendship circles where climbing is adored and enthused about regularly. However, it’s not uncommon for an avid climber to have close relationships with those who don’t climb, either through choice, disinterest or physical incapacity. It’s natural for non-climbing friends, family members or partners to be confused about or not completely understand the insatiable need to climb. The fire, the drive and the energy behind making the ascent can be difficult to comprehend for someone who has not stood in those climbing shoes.
If you are like me, and you have a climber in your life whom you adore, you will probably be familiar with the trickles of anxiety in your chest as they speak about wanting to take the next big step and push their climbing ability to the next level. Are you happy for them? Of course! You want them to realize their dreams and their potential, but it’s hard to push aside the fact that there is always an inherent danger. As with most sports, climbing obviously comes with it’s fair share of risk, which can be minimized with correct precautions and equipment. But despite knowing this it can still be difficult not to worry, your innate protective instincts leaping to the surface.
This is ok! It’s fine and completely normal to feel like this. Remember, you are only feeling these things because you genuinely care. However, you also must balance this with encouragement and support. Although you may not completely understand the “why” behind wanting to pursue the summits of large rocks, you can still be there for and positively influence the experience of the important climber in your life. One thing you could do to alleviate some worry is to become familiar with procedure, particularly regarding safety. This could provide a little comfort, after all it is always the unknown that human beings fear the most.
On a more personal level, my partner has been climbing for many years. Although we are both fairly adventurous, he has always taken this to the next level. Our relationship is a true partnership, we both encourage and support each other’s pursuits and interests. However, admittedly, I did struggle with this a little when it came to climbing. He would talk with endless enthusiasm about pursuing his first multipitch, ascending taller and taller rock faces each year, and I would look at him as if he was crazy. The idea of sleeping hundreds of feet off the ground strapped to a piece of canvas seemed ludicrous. My first thoughts were immediately of safety and my brain flooded with “what ifs”, but after some time to sit down and consider my feelings I realized that, yes there is risk. Of course, some things are out of your hands. But the same could be said for every single thing in life. Also, the list of “what ifs” is considerably shortened when you consider their experience and competence as a climber, something which would be an insult to his integrity if dismissed. I know he trains hard; I know he has fantastic understanding of technique as well as boundless passion and focus for climbing. I know he triple checks his harness and rope before putting one hand on the wall. I trust him to push himself, without pushing himself into actualized danger. This is how I had to change my thought processes in order to continue to support him the best I could.
Several times now I have accompanied my partner on climbing trips, either to bouldering gyms, climbing centres, or outdoor cliffs. Each time I’m blown away by the strength and resilience, persistence and ability to make something incredibly difficult look relatively easy. Although not an avid climber myself, I have gained a huge respect for the sport in general, and quite enjoy being a spectator. The pride you feel when you see your partner as a spec attached to a rope several feet above your head is hard to describe. Is the concern still there? Of course. It always will be. But I’ll always be there too.